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60 years of the Zambian Football League: 1962 – 2022

Zesco United defender tries to disposes Nkana striker Ronald Kampamba during the 2018 Charity Shield

By Jerry Muchimba

The year 2022 marked 60 years of the Zambian football league. The story of football in Zambia goes back about a hundred years when it was introduced in Northern Rhodesia in the early 1920s, after spreading from South Africa where it was played from as early as the mid-19th century. It is believed that soldiers, traders, sailors and missionaries brought football to that part of the world. In Northern Rhodesia, officials and employees of the British South African Company (BSAC) were the first people to play the game. The Europeans also played rugby, cricket, tennis and many other games but did not involve the locals and played amongst themselves.

As was the order of the day, Africans and Europeans did not mix in social and other activities. Although not directly involved, the locals observed the settlers playing football in their communities and also started playing using home-made footballs. 

The competitive and organised form of football in Northern Rhodesia was started by the formation of the Broken Hill Amateur Football Association (BHAFA) in 1922 by William Nelson Watson, who worked for Broken Hill Mine as Assistant Manager. Broken Hill town (now called Kabwe) was the first region to have competitive and organised football clubs in the territory, which included teams like Broken Hill Callies, Broken Hill Corinthians, Broken Hill Thistle and Broken Hill Railways. Following the formation of the BHAFA, other independent football associations emerged. 

Competitive football among Africans started getting organised separately, with the Copperbelt becoming the most organised, as it was the most industrialised and urbanised province in Northern Rhodesia due to the abundance of copper deposits.

The earliest form of organised football that emerged among Africans especially on the Copperbelt, was through tribal teams formed by locals who came to work in the towns from different provinces. They formed their own leagues and rebels emerged in the all-white associations who wanted to encourage multi-racial soccer, and they started this by organising fund-raising matches between Africans and Europeans. 

The emergence of the ill-fated Rhodesian and Nyasaland Football League in April 1961 heralded the mushrooming of racially integrated teams throughout the territory, though it was beset by financial and logistical challenges as participating teams had to travel between three countries, and the crowds were not large enough to cover the costs so the league collapsed after a few games. 

However, football administrators continued pressing for a national league and their efforts culminated in the formation of the National Football League, which was officially launched in early 1962 as the Northern Rhodesia National Football League. 

It was later that year at the FIFA congress in July that Northern Rhodesia was provisionally accepted as a member of the world soccer governing body, pending the granting of full membership at the next meeting in Tokyo in 1964.

The national league became one of the five associations affiliated to the Northern Rhodesia FA, the other four being the Rhodesia-Congo Border Football Association (conducting European soccer on the Copperbelt), the Copperbelt African Football Association, the Livingstone and District Football Association and the Midlands Football Association.

In the league’s first year, each district was allowed to enter a maximum of two teams. In some cases, existing teams entered their own team but some put aside their differences and combined to sponsor a completely new, non-racial club. 

It was first thought that there would be a merger between Mufulira Wanderers and Mufulira Blackpool but Blackpool retained their identity and missed out. Also rejected were the applications of Kitwe Sports and Hellenic F.C.

The 13 teams that were formally accepted and registered at the first annual meeting of the Northern Rhodesia national football league in Ndola on 4th February were:

  1. Bancroft North End
  2. Broken Hill Warriors 
  3. City of Lusaka
  4. Kitwe United
  5. Lusaka Queens Park 
  6. Mufulira United
  7. Mufulira Wanderers
  8. Nchanga Rangers
  9. Nchanga Sports
  10. Ndola F.C.
  11. Ndola United
  12. Roan United
  13. Rhokana United

It was agreed that the matches would be played on Sunday afternoon and Mr. Thomas Mtine was elected chairman in place of Mr. Ronnie Patterson who returned to South Africa. Vice Chairman was Mr. Bennie Evans of Luanshya.

The meeting accepted the draft constitution in principal and agreed that all members would deposit £100 in cash with the league. The £100 was a guarantee against failing to fulfil the fixtures and was in addition to the £31 10s required as combined affiliation and annual subscription fees.

The guarantees were to be invested and the interest earned to be shared between clubs in good standing at the end of the season.

Although professionalism was not obligatory for players in the league, most turned professional. Players could be paid a signing-on fee of up to £10, and a wage of a minimum of £1 and £2 per game. They could also receive an appearance fee of £1, plus a bonus of 10s for a draw and £1 for a win.

The first ever league championship kicked off a month later on 4th March 1962 and of the 13 teams Ndola FC, Nchanga Sports and Mufulira United were all white and the rest were of mixed race.

Nchanga Rangers set the pace with a 5-0 win over Ndola FC while Mufulira Wanderers also made short work of Kitwe United 5-1. Rhokana United, Bancroft North End Roan United also recorded victories while City of Lusaka drew 4-4 with Broken Hill Warriors. Due to the odd number of teams, Nchanga Sports were on bye.

City had acquired the services of former English international Jackie Sewell and he was one of the star performers. The biggest winning margin was 9-1 when Kitwe United thrashed Ndola FC on 3 June and Mufulira Wanderers’ 8-0 thrashing of Nchanga Rangers in October.

Roan United, boasting the talents of former Portuguese international Tony Castela as player-coach, and Ginger Pensulo, were the most consistent and soon took leadership of the table. On 21st October, they faced second placed City of Lusaka in a potential title-deciding match and carried the day 3-1 thanks to a brace from Dyson Mugala and a goal by Pensulo.

At the end of the season, Roan were crowned champions after edging out City of Lusaka. 

Mufulira United’s Ron Jervis was top scorer with 45 league goals. 

There were three cup competitions – the Challenge Cup, the Heinrich Cup and the richest trophy, the Castle Cup. City won the Challenge Cup when they beat Copperbelt FA team Roan Antelope while Bancroft North End (now called Konkola Blades) lifted the Heinrich Cup and Roan United were victorious in the Castle Cup final.

Challenge Cup Final (26.08.62), at Roan
City of Lusaka 5 (Ellis 8’, 15’; Bwalya 11’, 80’; Sharpe 18’)
Roan Antelope  1 (Abraham 30’)

Heinrich Cup Final (07.10.62) at Scrivener Stadium
Bancroft North End 2 (Kingston [2])
Roan United   1 (Mugala)

Castle Cup Final (14.10.62) AET, at Scrivener Stadium
Roan United 4 (Castella, Dyson, Pensulo, Heylen,)
Nchanga Sports 3 (Blair, Ginger Stevenson, Campbell)

As winners of the Northern Rhodesia Castle Cup, Roan earned the right to contest the Super Castle Cup final against Bulawayo Rovers of Southern Rhodesia  

Super Castle Cup Final (28.10.62) at Raylton Ground, Salisbury

Bulawayo Rovers 1 (McKie)

Roan United 0

It has been an interesting journey over the course of 60 years: 


1962Roan United 1993Nkana FC
1963Mufulira Wanderers1994Power Dynamos
1964City of Lusaka 1995Mufulira Wanderers
1965Mufulira Wanderers1996Mufulira Wanderers
1966Mufulira Wanderers1997Power Dynamos
1967Mufulira Wanderers1998Nchanga Rangers
1968Kabwe Warriors1999Nkana FC
1969Mufulira Wanderers2000Power Dynamos
1970Kabwe Warriors2001Nkana FC
1971Kabwe Warriors2002Zanaco
1972Kabwe Warriors2003Zanaco
1973Zambia Army2004 Red Arrows
1974Zambia Army 2005Zanaco
1975Green Buffaloes2006Zanaco
1976Mufulira Wanderers2007Zesco United
1977Green Buffaloes2008Zesco United
1978Mufulira Wanderers2009Zanaco
1979Green Buffaloes2010Zesco United
1980Nchanga Rangers2011Power Dynamos
1981Green Buffaloes2012Zanaco
1982Nkana Red Devils 2013Nkana
1983Nkana Red Devils 2014Zesco United
1984Power Dynamos2015Zesco United 
1985Nkana Red Devils 2016Zanaco
1986Nkana Red Devils 2017Zesco United
1987Kabwe Warriors2018Zesco United
1988Nkana Red Devils2019 Zesco United 
1989Nkana Red Devils2019/20Nkana FC 
1990Nkana Red Devils2020/21Zesco United
1991Power Dynamos2021/22Red Arrows
1992Nkana Red Devils
ZAMBIAN NFL League Records
First championsRoan United (1962)
Inaugural top scorerRon Jervis (Mufulira United): 45 (1962)
Highest winning marginMufulira Blackpool 15 – Lusaka Queens Park 2 (12.04.1963)
Most goals in a single matchChileshe Mumbi (8): Mufulira Blackpool 15 – Lusaka Queens Park 2 (12.04.63)
Most league goals by a club in a season100: Mufulira Wanderers: (1967)
Highest goal difference57: Kabwe Warriors (1968)
Most league goals conceded in a single season126: Kalulushi Modern Stars (1968)
Worst goal difference -89: Kalulushi Modern Stars (1968)
Inaugural Footballer of the Year award winnerGodfrey Chitalu (1968)
Inaugural top scorer award winnerGodfrey Chitalu (1968) – 81 goals overall
Most league goals by a player in a season49: Godfrey Chitalu (1972)
Record number of goals (all competitions)107: Godfrey Chitalu (1972)*
Most number of Footballer of the Year awards5: Godfrey Chitalu (1968, 1970, 1972, 1978 & 1979)
3 league titles in a rowMufulira Wanderers (1965-1967)Kabwe Warriors (1970-1972)Green Buffaloes (1973-1975)Nkana (1988-1990)Zesco United (2017-2019)
Least goals conceded in a season10 – Green Eagles (2019) **14 – Zanaco (2005, 2012) & ZESCO United (2008)
Highest number of points80: ZESCO United (2018) [38 game season]
Lowest number of points2: Ndola FC (1962) (2 points for a win)
Lowest number of wins in a season0: Mufulira Blackpool (2016)
Highest win percentage77%: Mufulira Wanderers 1967 (20 out of 26 games)
Biggest goal difference57: Kabwe Warriors (1968) (26 game season)
Most league titles13: Nkana FC (1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2001, 2013, 2020)
Most trophies49: Mufulira WanderersLeague Championship: 9(1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1976, 1978, 1995, 1996)Castle Cup/Independence Cup/Mosi Cup): 9(1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1988, 1995)Challenge Cup (Shell Challenge Cup/BP Challenge Cup/ BP Top Eight Cup): 10(1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1994, 1996, 1997)Heinrich Cup/Chibuku Cup/Heroes and Unity Cup: 7(1964, 1965, 1968, 1976, 1985, 1987, 1991)Champion of Champions Cup: 7(1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1985, 1988, 1992)Charity Shield: 6(1967, 1968, 1976, 1977, 1996, 1997)Super Castle Cup: 1(1965)
Most wins in a season14: Power Dynamos (1982) & Nkana [22 game season]20: Mufulira Wanderers (1967) [26 game season]21: Zanaco (2003 & 2006); ZESCO (2007) [30 game season]24: Zesco United (2018) [38 game season]25: Zanaco (2016) [34 game season]
Unbeaten in entire seasonGreen Buffaloes (1974) [over 26 games]Nkana FC (1982) [over 22 games]
Longest unbeaten runGreen Buffaloes: 44 (23.06.73 – 06.04.1975)
Sweeping of all silverwareKabwe Warriors (5 trophies): 1972, Nkana (6 trophies): 1993
Inaugural coach of the year award winnerFreddie Mwila (1984)

*Chitalu’s tally for the year was actually 116 goals if the goals scored in the African Cup of Champions Clubs are included

*Green Eagles conceded 10 goals in the 2019 transitional season which was over 18 games

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